Rajat Sharma

Modi’s E-budget for New Digital India

rajat-sirFinance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented on Tuesday a forward-looking budget that focusses more on developing infrastructure and, in the process, will definitely open more avenues for development, quality employment, and new job opportunities. Rs 7.5 lakh crore has been earmarked for capital investment on infrastructure like roads, railway, airports, ports, waterways and logistics.

The second major announcement was related to the arrival of digital currency. Reserve Bank of India will introduce digital currency this year itself, and all gains made on transfer of digital virtual assets will be taxed at 30 per cent, Sitharaman said. One per cent TDS will be levied on all digital currency transactions.

Thirdly, she decided not to give any more relief nor impose tax burden on income tax payers.

Fourthly, tax payers will be allowed to update their income tax returns within two years by paying an additional tax of 25-50 per cent on interest. This will be beneficial for income tax payers who have missed the deadline to file revised income tax return. However, they will not be able to use this facility if their updated return leads to lesser total tax liability or increase in income tax refund. A major loophole has been plugged by the Finance Minister, who announced that all black money seized during raids shall stand confiscated. Till now, tax evaders used to pay income tax liability and 30 per cent penalty on undisclosed cash seized during raids.

The fifth, and most important point, in this year’s Budget is that it has been prepared keeping in mind the overall strategy for creating a New India 25 years hence, when the nation will be celebrating 100 years of freedom. This will benefit farmers, youths, traders, industry and all other sectors of economy. The objective is to achieve ‘aatmanirbharta’ (self-reliance).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a “people-friendly and progressive” budget. “This budget has come with a new sense of confidence towards progress amidst a once-in-a-century calamity. The budget is full of more investments, more opportunities, more growth and more jobs”, he said.

The budget has kept a target of providing 60 lakh new jobs, 80 lakh new houses under PM Awas Yojana and piped water supply to 3.80 crore households during this financial year. The budget has also focussed on the farm sector, earmarking Rs 2.37 lakh crore on procurement of wheat and paddy. More than 1.67 crore farmers will get their procurement prices directly to their bank accounts.

Rs 1,400 crore has been earmarked for linking the Ken and Betwa rivers, pending since decades, to help irrigate the parched land of Bundelkhand, where farmers have been facing drought almost every year. The Budget also proposes to promote pesticide-free natural farming along the five kilometre wide stretch on the Ganga river bank.

Most of the political watchers were expecting a populist budget with big promises and lofty dreams in view of the crucial assembly elections in five states, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose not to tread that path. Modi chose not to pander to the sentiments of voters. Instead, he focussed on how to strengthen the economy. India’s economy today has registered a 9.2 per cent GDP growth rate, despite industry being badly hit during the Covid pandemic for the last two years. In essence, this Budget underlines the ‘neeti’ (policy) and ‘neeyat’ (intent) of this government.

Now a look at how the Opposition leaders reacted to the budget. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Modi Government’s Zero Sum Budget. Nothing for salaried class, middle class, the poor and deprived, youth, farmers, MSMEs”. Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “BUDGET HAS ZERO FOR COMMON PEOPLE, WHO ARE GETTING CRUSHED BY UNEMPLOYMENT & INFLATION. GOVT IS LOST IN BIG WORDS SIGNIFYING NOTHING – A PEGASUS SPIN BUDGET.”

Samajwadi Party supremo tweeted: “jobs, businesses have collapsed..historic recession, lakhs have lost their jobs, ..incomes of common people have declined..they withdrew all savings from banks due to joblessness and illness..Now one more budget from BJP which will pinch everybody’s pickets.. the end of BJP’s dark age in UP has begun, UP kahe aaj ka, nahin chahiye Bhajapa”.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted: “Farmers’ income have not doubled, no relief in tax for middle class, no relief for small industries, no jobs for youths, Only old ‘jumlas’ and attack on subsidies, this, in essence, is Modi’s budget”.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied to these criticisms, by saying, Rs 2.37 lakh procurement prices for paddy and wheat will be sent directly to the bank accounts of farmers, and nearly 60 lakh people will get jobs after Rs 7.5 lakh crore capital investment on highways, ports, airports, railway and logistics. In a counter-attack on Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman said, “Rahul should see why youths are not getting jobs in Punjab and why farmers are still committing suicide in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. People will not take Rahul seriously, if he gives frivolous reactions.”

If we start analyzing the Union Budget in a traditional manner, as was being done for decades, then we can surely say that it has not given any relief to middle class income tax payer, it has not lowered prices of commodities, farmers got nothing and no major announcement was made for job creation, but if one views this as a budget for a new, modern India, one can clearly see where it is headed.

The budget has focussed on seven growth engines, as Sitharaman said, based on PM Gati Shakti plan. Roads, railway, ports, airports, waterways, logistics infra and mass transport are these seven engines. This is Modi’s dream for India At 100, the year 2047, when India will complete 100 years of freedom from British rule. This has been described as “Amrit Kaal’ (The Age of Nectar) by Sitharaman, based on the current Amrit Mahotsav that the nation is celebrating after 75 years of freedom.

You will also find everything digital in this budget. The speech was given by Sitharaman in Lok Sabha, for the first time, on a digital iPad, instead of reading from a printed booklet. She spoke about digital education, digital university, digital health, digital Rupee, 5G for a digital telecom revolution, drones for mapping crops, organic farming near Ganga river, encouragement to startups, 400 Vande Bharat trains, ports, airports and highways, huge railway cargo terminals, etc.

These are the signs of India coming of age. Unless we progress on this front, we cannot take on the rest of the world in the field of post-modern industrialization and hi-tech agro farming. These projects envisage more jobs, more earnings, more exports, more FDIs – this is the image of a new, digital India in the making.

The Finance Minister has also announced the launch of new e-passports from this financial year. It will have embedded chips which will use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and biometrics to verify the identity of passport holders and will gradually replace traditional printed passports. Sitharaman also announced the launch of an e-university, named DESH-Stack portal, for online learning, which will be built on a hub and spoke model. The e-university will be set up in collaboration with various Indian universities.

This should be seen as a harbinger of a new India, based on Narendra Modi’s vision for the next 25 years. Had our rulers shown the same farsightedness soon after Independence and had they embarked on 25-year-long plans, the present state of economy could have been altogether different. We could have left others behind in the race towards progress.

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